The invention consisted of a long flexible indiarubber bag fixed halfway down a tube. The tube is fixed, air-tight, in a box having a capacity of a hundred times the tube, so that very slight variations of pressure would cause a considerable movement of the closed end of the bag up or down the tube, and enable registration of atmospheric disturbances to be made, which neither the mercurial nor the aneroid barometer was sensitive enough to show.
The President said that, theoretically, Mr. Wakelin's idea was a good one, but that indiarubber would not do for the moving part. He thought it would be better to have a very light thin glass tube inserted, floating in glycerine, contained in an annular reservoir in the external tube.
3. “Note on the Breeding-habits of the European Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in New Zealand,” by T. W. Kirk, F.R.M.S., F.L.S. (Transactions, p. 108.)
Mr. Travers said that Mr. Kirk's views regarding the food of the sparrow did not agree with those of naturalists in other countries. His experience led him to believe that their principal food was insects. The Cicadæ especially are caught in hundreds by them. It would be difficult to ascertain, as suggested, by dissection whether they contain insect-food or grain. If the increase were anything like what Mr. Kirk contends the air would be full of these birds. The increase really depends on the amount of food they get. That these birds are useful to the agriculturist is beyond question. The increase in crops is in proportion to the spread of the sparrow. The insects which used to swarm in the plains in the South have now almost disappeared owing to the sparrow, and the grain has increased. The caterpillars, once so numerous, are disappearing from the same cause. In Hungary they made war against the sparrows, but after a time they had to get them back again, so that they might protect the wheat from the insects. The sparrow was also a good scavenger. It was said that the sparrow destroyed the grape, but it turned out to be the Zosterops, or the minah. The hawk mentioned as being attacked by sparrows is the kind that never touches sparrows. He was an ardent admirer of the sparrow, and he did not think we should grudge the small amount of grain they consumed when they were in other ways so useful.
Sir Walter Buller said he was prepared to accept his full share of the responsibility for the introduction of the sparrow by the Wanganui Acclimatization Society in 1866. Whilst fully admitting and deploring the depredations committed by this bird on the settlers' crops at certain
seasons of the year, he considered that the sparrow was an insectivorous bird in the strictest sense; and, believing as he did that the balance of evidence was strongly in his favour, he never lost an opportunity, in public or in private, of putting in a plea for poor persecuted Passer domesticus. He declared that during the breeding-season the sparrow was the farmer's best friend, for the young broods were fed entirely on insect-food. Mr. Kirk's observations on the fecundity of this bird in New Zealand would give some idea of the great service he performed. The sparrow had also proved instrumental in exterminating the variegated Scotch thistle—which at one time threatened to overrun this country—by feeding on the seeds, and preventing their dissemination.
Mr. Denton said that it was almost impossible to keep sparrows entirely alive on grain; they must have insects.
Mr. Hudson remarked that of course the great disappearance in insect-life here would in some measure be accounted for by the clearing of the bush and draining of the swampy land: no doubt the sparrow had done his share. He did not think it much advantage to have the Cicadæ destroyed, for they did no harm.
Mr. Travers differed from Mr. Hudson. The Cicadæ damaged the introduced trees considerably, and often so much so as to cause them to die altogether.
Mr. Richardson pointed out that numbers of sparrows were often destroyed by strong gales of wind and rain.
Mr. Kirk, in reply, said that most of the discussion was on points which had not been raised in his paper. Indeed, he had specially mentioned that there was not yet to hand sufficient reliable evidence on which to found an impartial judgment as to whether the sparrow was more beneficial than hurtful to agriculture and horticulture. As, however, the question had been introduced, he would state that when he entered upon this investigation he was as staunch a supporter of the sparrow as Mr. Travers or Sir Walter Buller. He was afraid, however, that he should now have to modify his views very much. There could be no doubt that the sparrow ate many thousands of insects, and did a vast amount of good. The point to be settled was, did he exact more grain, fruit, &c., in payment for those services than those services were worth? He was intimately acquainted with M. Michelet's book, “The Bird,” referred to by Mr. Travers; but he must draw attention to the fact that the author's remarks did not apply to New Zealand, where the rate of increase of the sparrow was phenomenal. He was, of course, aware that the large hawk mentioned did not feed on living birds, and was therefore the more surprised, that the sparrows should venture to attack such a powerful opponent. Exception had been taken to his calculations, and Mr. Travers stated that at the rate mentioned the air would be “full of sparrows.” He had already said that the calculation was based upon the assumption that no active agencies were employed by man for the destruction of the sparrow; but we all knew that poisoning on a large scale was indulged in. He was convinced that one-third of the annual increase was ample to allow for accidental and natural deaths. He might mention that the balance of evidence so far was against the sparrow. Miss Ormerod, Consulting Entomologist to the Royal Agricultural Society, a most ardent champion of the sparrow, had investigated the question in England, and had been obliged to abandon his cause. Professor Riley, Entomologist, and Messrs. Hartman and Barrons, Ornithologists of the United States Department of Agriculture, had been compelled to cast their votes against the “cussed little Britisher.” If the sparrow had been condemned in England, where, according to Sir Walter Buller, it usually reared but two broods a year, what would be the result in this country, where the output from a single nest was five, six, and even seven broods a season? The sparrow did good work by eating the seeds of the large thistle, but the goldfinch and green linnet indulged even more in that
habit. In conclusion, he would say that he, for one, would be very sorry to see the sparrow exterminated; but he was convinced some systematic steps would have to be taken to restrict the increase. The sparrow was like alcoholic liquor, good in moderation, but decidedly harmful in excess.